Murketing’s Sponsored Film Virtual Festival: Why Braceros?

Posted by Rob Walker on April 25, 2008
Posted Under: Olde News,Sponsored Film Festival,Work,World News


[ –> Details on Sponsored-Film Virtual Festival are here.]

This 19-minute film, “Why Braceros?,” was produced in around 1959 on behalf of the Council of California Growers. It aims to tell viewers about “the benefits of the bracero program,” The Field Guide to Sponsored Films explains, “originally initiated by the United States in 1942 to alleviate the World War II labor shortage.” This was a “guest worker” program that made it okay for Mexican labor to be brought in seasonally to work on cotton farms and other manual jobs (“stoop labor,” it’s called in the films).

Anyway, the film carefully explains that these are really bad jobs, so they’re hard to fill. The issues are familiar: Even in the pre-Lou Dobbs era, people were angry that these supposedly job-threatening outsiders are allowed. The message here is: Hey, it’s okay. It’s good for everybody. These workers are just a tiny fraction of the farm labor force. They spend some of their money in America. And the U.S. government is on top of the situation.

The bracero program was not exactly a great deal for Mexican workers, any more than sharecropping was a great deal. That’s hardly the main agenda of the film, but the question of “mistreatment” is briefly (and again, reassuringly) addressed by “the Mexican counsel.” This guy begins his remarks by explaining that “these men are not wetbacks” (!) and then tells us that they are “well treated,” and the Mexican government is on top of the situation. What a relief!

The overall impression is that something fishy is going on here, a patchwork solution has been struck, and frankly it wouldn’t really pass muster if people really understood it. On the other hand, I think it would take much more than an industrial film to convince the country to go along with a program anything like this today. Kind of interesting to ponder.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Ah, the glory days of poorly-made indoctrination films.

Still, it seems like a guestworker program would make a hell of a lot more sense than our current policy. Right now business wants cheap labor and politicians want to look like they’re doing something without pissing off business, so they build an expensive wall rather than enforcing labor laws.

Written By Verbal on April 25th, 2008 @ 5:52 pm

I think that’s a good point. It almost seems like the debate over the issue is now probably too emotional to come up with a sensible solution, whether it resembled this or not.

Written By Rob Walker on April 30th, 2008 @ 7:17 am